The New Normal: Getting Maximum Value from Multi-Vendor UC
"Nothing endures but change" - Heraclitus. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus had no idea how his iconic quote would so directly apply to enterprise communications. The communications landscape continues to evolve. User and customer expectations are also changing. When businesses were more local and information workers less mobile, technologies like the business phone system (aka PBX) and e-mail filled the communications gap. That’s just not the case any longer. We are a mobile first world. In fact, the Center for Disease Control (of all organizations to reference in a tech blog) found that more than 35% of US households are mobile only—no landline telephones. When put in perspective, it’s clear to see that we are an always on, always connected, digital society. You can say we are Hyperconnected. With advancements in consumer technology, enterprise users and their customers expect to have an equal communications experience, while conducting business, as they do in their personal lives. The challenge for most IT organizations is to keep up with those expectations and to deliver the right experience at the right time across multiple devices, modalities, and applications, all while leveraging investments already made in enterprise communications technology. Unified communications (UC) is part of the answer, but we’re seeing the real value in unifying communications. At Acme Packet, we see an inflection point where the right approach will enable enterprise IT to deliver on business demands while delighting their end users and customers.
Before we talk about the approach, let’s take a look at how we got here. Every business that’s been around since 2009 has made some investment in a PBX. I picked 2009 since that coincides with the start of the smart phone revolution. The majority of installed PBX systems are IP-enabled as are the desk phones that connect to them. As part of the evolution of enterprise communications, PBX vendors have attempted to transform their voice-centric products to UC platforms by supporting video conferencing, offering desktop and mobile clients, integrating with instant messaging (IM) software, and unifying voice mail and email inboxes. At the same time, we’ve seen companies like Microsoft and IBM develop pure UC platforms that take a software first approach offering integration with PBX systems to include voice as part of their user experience. With the PBX vendors pushing and the pure UC companies pulling, many enterprises are left crushed by the overlap of tools, lack of interoperability, and loss of control of their communications environments.
So, what can you do about it? Go with a single vendor UC approach? While idealistic, this approach is not realistic. No single vendor has established themselves as a true “one stop shop” for UC. Even if one vendor has most of what you need; single sourcing UC puts your business at a cost and innovation disadvantage. You lose your price competitiveness by not going with best-of-breed solutions, and compromise your strategic roadmap by being so dependent on your vendor’s product outlook. What about resetting user expectations? With trends like bring your own device (BYOD) and consumerization of IT (CoIT) becoming pervasive, saying “no” to your end user can result in them making an independent buying decision solving their technology problem while sacrificing security and control. The right approach is really about the right architecture. An architecture that connects your users and customers across multiple devices, applications, and systems, securely, while ensuring your enterprise has control over the flow of information.
So what’s this architecture look like? It starts with evolving your communications network to an all-IP edge. You may be thinking, “didn’t we spend the last five years moving communications to IP?” Well, kind of. While we’ve seen core elements like PBX systems and desk phones move to IP, as well as UC systems being IP out of the box; the access services between communications systems, mobile devices, and customers are, in most cases, plain old telephone service (referred to as POTS or TDM). Migrating to SIP trunks and enterprise session border controllers (E-SBC) help your enterprise move closer to an all-IP communications network. Since Acme Packet’s E-SBC solution is a robust service platform, it will play a central role in the communications core we will discuss later. Once the all-IP edge has been established, focus shifts to the most important layer of the architecture, the user layer. Everything starts from the end user. This layer is comprised of the devices and tools that end users rely on to communicate. The profile of devices will be varied and will only continue to evolve over time. The next layer in the architecture is the communications core. Today, most of the critical communications services an organization relies on are tightly bound to a PBX system or UC platform, preventing your business from centrally managing and easily extending those services to devices, applications, or systems that need them across your enterprise. The communications core abstracts and aggregates those key services through Acme Packet’s scalable enterprise session management solution in conjunction with our E-SBC solution.
The table below describes and maps those key communications services to Acme Packet solutions:
Since the E-SBC was designed to cure interoperability and media incompatibilities between different real-time IP elements, it’s natural to leverage the E-SBC to achieve interoperability between disparate PBX and UC systems. Inherent to the communications core are enterprise monitoring and management capabilities. Acme Packet’s Palladion Enterprise software suite provides enterprises with a “single pane of glass” to all real-time services. We move on to the final layer of the architecture we call the application layer. The application layer is comprised of an open API framework that exposes the services aggregated in the communications core to other applications and to developers. Communications services can be embedded in off the shelf business applications, such as CRM or ERP, or leveraged in specialized applications. In addition to the API framework, UC platforms, voicemail, and audio conferencing applications (just to name a few) are easily accessible by end users across any device, location, or network connected to the communications core.
The graphic below is a good representation of the high level architecture at every layer.
Let’s recap the proposed steps your enterprise should consider to realize the full benefits of a multi-vendor UC environment, shall we?
- Evolve the edge to all-IP through SIP trunking and E-SBCs
- E-SBC becomes first building block in the communications core, solving interoperability and media incompatibilities between PBX and UC systems
- Centralize monitoring and management with Palladion Enterprise
- Prepare for session management
- Develop and integrate your application and BYOD strategies
Operating a multi-vendor UC environment is tough. Being responsible for delivering value from your UC investments can be equally daunting. However, Acme Packet believes the right architecture will not only make operating a multi-vendor UC environment easier, but enterprise IT organizations will be able to save on both CAPEX and OPEX while addressing business demands. Are you ready to start?
Biography: Rob Popovic is the director of enterprise solution marketing at Acme Packet. In this role, Rob is responsible for worldwide solution strategy, aligning the ecosystem behind the Acme Packet value proposition, and raising awareness through thought leadership activities. Prior to joining Acme Packet, Rob was technical sales director for global accounts and financial services at Avaya. He has been in the unified communications and collaboration space for 15 years, both as a customer and vendor. He specializes in strategies and technologies in the financial services and insurance industries, focusing on customer experience, collaboration, and infrastructure optimization.
White Paper: Enterprise IP Telephony and UC Interoperability
Businesses often experience interoperability issues when connecting multi-vendor communications solutions (UC servers, IP-PBXs, endpoints), interfacing with service provider networks (SIP trunking services, hosted services) or delivering UC services to Internet users (remote offices and teleworkers).